LETTERS READ: Welcome!

Letters Read is an ongoing series in which local performers interpret letters and written documents about culturally vital individuals from various times and Louisiana communities. Focusing on New Orleans. Now in its eighth consecutive season. Performances are free and open to the general public. Listen to past events HERE.

2024 Season: Family. Chosen & Blood

This season, we read letters and documents from two very different kinds of families. Randomly alternating between the two, the themes examined are families and communities we are born with and those we choose.

Our first subject is Josephine Louise Newcomb belonging to the former category. Her’s is a family saga that turns venal. It is presented in two live performances and some podcasts throughout the year. The second is the latter category. Four case studies from the early days of the HIV | AIDS crisis in the late 20th century. These stories, and the communities taking care of them, will be presented in four, five-minute, incubator-style, experimental podcasts. Newcomb and the first HIV | AIDS podcast finish up the 2023-24 theme, New York/New Orleans.

Letters from the 1980s HIV/AIDS Epidemic.

In partnership with the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, Letters Read is producing four, incubator-style, mini-podcasts on early HIV/AIDS awareness and activism here in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the country at large. Each launches on the dates following and remains available thereafter.

INTRODUCTION available HERE.
June 6 Mark Gonzalez, protest, and ACT UP. LISTEN HERE.

Aug 8 Noel Twillbeck and Crescent Care.
Oct 3 Brad Ott and underground publishing as activism.
Dec 5 Aids Hospice, Pierre Rene “Peter” DeLancey & commentary by Hywel Sims.

This is a gently evolving series subject to change.

Image: c1902. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-113063 (b&w film copy neg.) Call Number: BIOG FILE – Newcomb, Josephine Louise Le Monnier. Photo by(?) Ernest P. Carriere.

The Letters of Josephine Louise Newcomb

October 29
Newcomb Foundation
Tulane University (details to come.)

April 13
Catapult, New Orleans
Featured Readers: Chris Kamenstein, Shadow Angelina Starkey, and Robert Valley
A podcast of the performance is available HERE.

H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College was established by Josephine Louise Monnier Newcomb (“Jo”) as she was called, 1816 to 1901) as a memorial to her daughter Sophie who died at the age of 15. At a time when women were discouraged from education, an institution devoted to higher learning for women was a revolutionary idea.

Ladies of Mrs. Newcomb’s privileged class were instead taught to have “accomplishments”. Such as parlor entertainments like piano playing and polite conversation. For the lower classes—who had to hire themselves out as domestic help to survive—cooking, cleaning, sewing, nursing, and caregiving for other people’s families were their lot. For them, education, such as it were, was learned scrubbing pots on the job.

Until its post-Katrina consolidation into Tulane University, Newcomb College was a separate, four-year, baccalaureate-giving institution. Entirely – for – women.

Through Josephine Louise Newcomb’s letters, this project tells that tale. The series is created in grateful partnership with Susan Tucker and Beth Willinger. In great part, it relies on their scholarship, insights, and their project of the same name, The Letters of Josephine Louise Newcomb.

Thanks to the generous donations making this season possible, Corner Foundation, and funds “from an admiring patron”. Special thanks, too, to writer/researcher, Jarret Lofstead and audio engineer Steve Gilliland.

Letters of Josephine Louise Newcomb
A Preview Reading
March 10, The Mudlark Theatre

1200 Port Street, New Orleans.

3/10/24 Rubber Flower announcement.

Letters Read collaborates with Rubber Flower for a spoken word production at The Mudlark Public Theatre

The evening begins with micro treats by the producer of Letters Read, Nancy Sharon Collins, and visual artist Ryan Leitner.  It then features poet Ben Fluet and fictionist Terra Travis

Letters Read takes this opportunity to introduce the Josephine Louise Newcomb saga to be performed over the 2024 season.

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2023 Season: New York/New Orleans

INCUBATOR XI.
WATER & SALT

Two Cities’ Dilemmas.

Henniker, Frederick. Notes, During a Visit to Egypt, Nubia, the Oasis, Mount Sinai, and Jerusalem. London: John Murray, 1823. Shown above is an aquatint fold-out view of Jerusalem “whose precision could let a traveler use it for wayfinding.” —https://www.drawingpalestine.com/jerusalem.html.

This production was created from material collected during the creation of Drugs, Sex, Rock & Roll: A Year of Magic and Wonder. Which coincided with the project’s director/writer’s move back from New York to New Orleans. Quoting from the script, Collins’s observation was that moving home was “kind of like sleeping with an old lover.”

Meanwhile, significant municipal water issues collided in both cities and, in the Middle East. Podcast Sunday, November 5, and thereafter. LISTEN HERE.

DRUGS, SEX, ROCK & ROLL
A year of magic and wonder.

Letters Read Tie Die Banner

October 20 and thereafter. Listen to an oft-experienced tale of the Big Easy luring an innocent, out-of-towner, to the dark side.

This specific story, ca. 1985, focuses on one, one incredibly transformative year. For one man. Emblematic of many attracted to New Orleans for its louche way of life.

This potentially tragic tale resolves itself into a beautiful, tie-dye butterfly. In which a Tulane undergraduate magically emerges going on to a fulfilling queer life and hugely successful, big city, New York City career.

Geoff Munsterman reads as the subject. Named James, just James. Shadow Angelina Starkey reads as Nancy Sharon Collins, the project director. Historic context has been corroborated by consultant, Royd Anderson. Munsterman and Starkey produced it.

You can access the podcast HERE.

Robert Moses and New Orleans’s Riverfront Expressway.

1946 illustration of a proposed parking garage in downtown New Orleans. From “Arterial Plan of New Orleans”.
Architectural rendering of a proposed parking garage in downtown New Orleans. From “Arterial Plan of New Orleans”. Photographed in and courtesy of the NOPL Archives Division.

July 16, 12:00 pm, CDT, and thereafter.
Listen to the podcast HERE.
Continuing our New York/New Orleans journey, we bring you the only project Robert Moses ever did in the Crescent City. With his usual team of engineers and urbanists, he directed a report with suggestions to solve traffic congestion in the Big Easy. Locally, this project—or part of it—is referred to as the ⁠Riverfront Expressway⁠.

Robert Moses, the greatest builder New York has ever known, is so often credited with it that it is almost funny that it did not even happen. As frequently as he is credited with the project that never was, he is also incorrectly blamed for the Claiborne Expressway. That, horrendously, did. 

This podcast is part of the ongoing script development for a fully realized live performance later this year about Moses, his portion of the report, and the historic outcomes.

The reading is based on primary source research in The Robert Moses Collection at the New York Public Library and Moses’ 1946 “Arterial Plan of New Orleans” commissioned by the state of Louisiana. Additional information comes from newspaper articles, past and current, hearsay, Facebook, Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, Richard Baumbach and William Borah’s The Second Battle of New Orleans, and Hilary Ballon’s Robert Moses and the Modern City

For information on the current fight to remove the Claiborne Overpass and links to other resources used for this production, go to HERE

April 30, 5:00 pm, CDT.

Orange Couch
2339 Royal St.
New Orleans, LA 70117-8529.

Free and open to the public and covered by Stefanie Russell on Historia. This is the first live event since October 26, 2019. An informal reading excerpted from the full Robert Moses script being produced for the live event later this year. Here is what it’s all about:

Robert Moses, New York City, and the state’s greatest builder.  Respected and reviled. In 1945, Moses was contracted by the state of Louisiana to evaluate, and recommend, remedies for common, mid-20th-century problems such as traffic congestion.

While many of his plan’s ideas were implemented over time, the Riverfront Expressway never materialized.

Excerpts are from Robert Moses’s own writings, letters, and other contemporaneous articles. Primary source material from the New Orleans Public Library, the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center, and Robert Moses papers. Manuscripts and Archives Division. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

Amidst the post-World War II automobile-based transportation frenzy, the 1946 “Arterial Plan for New Orleans” was published. Commissioned by Louisiana state’s Department of Highways and directed by New York master planner Robert Moses. This report outlined the modernization of all Crescent City transportation. In addition to advocating for the high-speed movement of automobiles through a historically rich urban center–the French Quarter—the report planned for new, more efficient railways, airports, shipping canals, and yes, monumental parking garages.

At its heart was an elevated, riverfront expressway. Later known as the Riverfront Expressway. It would separate the historic Vieux Carré and the Pontalba Plaza from the Mississippi riverfront entirely. Literally throwing the historic residential neighborhood, a significant tourist destination, into the shadows.

April 28: A Dress Rehearsal.

Christopher Kamenstein, Goat in the Road Productions co-creative director, reads as Robert Moses.
David Zalkind, Frenchman Art & Books, reads contextual information.

This is a work in progress. A rehearsal for the script being developed for the live production later this year.

The subject is Robert Moses. Born 1888. Deceased 1981.

Visionary urban planner. Who changed the mid-twentieth century built environment of New York City and New York State in a manner still seen and experienced today. The municipal projects he brought to fruition were massive in scale. Damns. Bridges. Parkways, toll roads, and highways. Superhighways.

Moses envisioned a spectacular web of high-speed roads moving hundreds of thousands of cars carrying freight and people. Since the 1920s, other city planners had dreamed of this. No one. No one could figure out how. Robert Moses did.

March 20, INCUBATOR X.

Introducing the 2023 Season, Director’s Note.

Historic photo of the Queensboro Bridge under construction. From NYP digital collections.
Courtesy: Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. “Bridges – Queensboro [Queensborough] Bridge.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1937. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-9278-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99]
The 10th Incubator short. Another experimental-style podcast by stationer, Nancy Sharon Collins, the project director. It is the first to be recorded in The Big Apple. In a pre-war, studio apartment ’round the corner from the monumental, Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. This reading will introduce the 2023 theme, New York / New Orleans. Total listening time: under 6 minutes and 3 seconds. Click HERE to listen.

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2022 Season: Lady Louisiana Artists.

New Year’s Eve: Lemons to Lemonade.

Finishing up the Lady Louisiana Artist series for 2022 is Magen Raine Gladden. Commercial artist. Born into a hippy dirt road collective along River Road in South Louisiana with a lifetime of health challenges. Now a leader through the lens of workplace equity and inclusivity rights. This podcast goes live on New Year’s Eve. Click HERE to listen.

Detailed taxonomic illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler. A chromolithographic print. Lemon. (2022, December 12). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemon

Geoff Munsterman narrates. Shadow Angelina Starkey reads as Gladden. Munstermanam is a poet, editor, and book artist from Plaquemines Parish now living in New Orleans’ Holy Cross neighborhood. Starkey is a Cajun poet and photographer whose family has called New Orleans home since 1727.

Join Letters Read New Year’s Eve to listen and support this amazing project by clicking HERE.

Thanksgiving, Incubator IX.
Letters from the Street.

Letters Read, Thanksgiving, 2022: Letters from the Street.

The 9th Incubator short. Another experimental-style subject. This one presented in 7 minutes and 12 seconds presenting missives literally sourced from New Orleans’s streets. Missives of all kinds. Notices, notes-to-self, lists, recipes, and formulas. Why, even poetry. To listen, click HERE.

September 28: Angela Gregory.

Click HERE to listen. A virtual event co-hosted by Neal Auction Company.

Angela Gregory, 1923. Tulane University Archive.

Our second lady Louisiana artist, Angela Gregory, is a true Louisiana hero of women in the arts in the 20th century. Busting traditional boundaries and forging her own way. She was born in New Orleans in 1903. Became a successful sculptor garnering public and private commissions at a time when equal rights for women were only beginning.

This program owes a tremendous shout-out to Nancy Penrose, co-author of Gregory’s biography, A Dream and a Chisel. Thanks again to Michel Varisco, the subject of our last podcast.

Gregory’s mother was a stay-at-home mom and her father was a well-respected Tulane professor. In 1925, she convinced her parents to send her to Paris to learn how to become an artist. A highly unusual move for a young woman to do alone. It is to be remembered that women, white women, in this country had only gained the right to vote five years previously.

In Paris, she became the only American ever to study under Antoine Bourdelle and work in his stone cutting studio. Later, Gregory credited her very unusual success as a lady artist to Bourdelle’s tutelage and help.

Her earliest influence was her mother, Selina Elizabeth Bres Gregory. Who had graduated from Newcomb College. Which was then Tulane University’s women’s college. Where she had the good fortune to study with artist brothers Ellsworth and William Woodward not long after they joined the faculty. The work of both Gregory women, the Woodwards, Newcomb Pottery, and Bourdelle, are prized as valuable pieces of art today.

June 24: Michel Varisco.

Click HERE to listen.

Our first lady Louisiana subject is letters and missives to and from eco-feminist artist, and Letters Read Executive Advisory Board member, Michel Varisco.

WARBLER, thermal dye print on aluminum, by Michel Varisco. Of this piece, Varisco writes, “I used a warbler … Ersy’s gift stuck in my mind, just not that specific bird. this one I froze years later to use.”

Varisco’s photography, assemblages, and installations bear witness to our relationship with nature as observed in architecture, engineered, and the wild.

The artist writes further about the above image, “Sr. Alison McCrary, the radical nun and lawyer is holding a dead yellow warbler. She had told me she was mourning the slow death of the Catholic Church, while I mourn the disconnect of religion for the environment and the future of all sentient beings.” —2019 King Tides exhibit, Good Children Gallery, New Orleans, LA.

In addition to letters from Varisco’s wide family of friends, cohorts, fellow artists and collaborators, this podcast includes edits from the email exchange between Letters Read Director and lady Louisiana artist, Jacqueline Bishop. Bishop contributed in an advisory manner for this production. Her work reflects on complex connections between climate change, species extinction, and migration.

Christopher Kamenstein, co-artistic director of Goat in the Road Production, reads Varisco’s letters and other correspondence of interest. Audio production is by Steve Chyzyk, Sonic Canvas Studio.

Earlier this year, wrapping up the previous programming season, Doing Business in New Orleans, Letter Read presented the Clay Shaw story.

April 1: The Only Person Ever Brought to Trial for Conspiracy to Assassinate President John F. Kennedy. 

Listen HERE.

New Orleans Businessman Clay Shaw photographed in 1956 during a classic Mardi Gras celebration.

On March 1, 1967, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison arrested him on conspiracy charges. Shaw was a beloved, successful, local businessman, and closeted queer man.

On January 29, 1969, Garrison tried Shaw in Orleans Parish Criminal Court on three conspiracy charges. A little over a month later the jury took less than one hour to acquit Shaw.

After, “…jurors expressed their bewilderment as to motive. Respectable socialite Clay Shaw, it strained credulity as to why he would become involved in the murder of the President. Jim Garrison believed that Shaw was acting as Oswald’s shepherd in New Orleans, under instructions from the CIA. But he couldn’t prove it, certainly not beyond a reasonable doubt.” —Joan Mellen.

Many theories swirl around these, now-infamous, Big Easy characters. Both Shaw and Garrison. This reading strives to represent the man who was Clay Shaw and, to a lesser extent who was Garrison.

Robert Valley reads as the voice of Shaw, David Zalkind is Jim Garrison. Audio production is by Steve Chyzyk, Sonic Canvas Studio.

PHOTO: 1956. Clay Shaw dressed for Mardi Gras. From an original 35mm slide in a boxed tray labeled, “Carnival, 2/14/56. Sally Del Sue Ray”. Property and copyright of Letters Read.

LETTERS READ: Doing Business in New Orleans

Letters Read New Years 2021-22
The image of international trade in the second half of the 20th century.

New Years Eve: Dad, Mid-20th Century Foreign Intrigue & the Almighty American Dollar
Premiering New Year’s at 6:00 pm CDT. Our final production for 2021, Doing Business in New Orleans.  A prelude to the upcoming, 2022 regular programming event about New Orleans’ beloved international businessman Clay Shaw, international trade, CIA, and the JFK assassination conspiracy.

A link to the New Year’s podcast will be posted HERE. You can listen to previous Letters Read recordings and podcasts HERE.

The December 31st podcast is one of our incubator, experimental-style readings. It weaves comparisons between Shaw and another, international-export-fella, Nate Feldman. Who spoke about his trade during a 2007 entrepreneurship panel discussion at Loyola University New Orleans. The other panel members speaking were environmental justice activist Michel Varisco—a Letters Read Executive Advisor—and this project’s Director well before Letters Read began in 2017. A link to that discussion is HERE.

The audio producer for this event is Steve ChyzykSonic Canvas Studio in New Orleans.

LETTERS READ: Mad Men New Orleans-style

The 2021 Season:

ADDA
Slide 32 in the 1961 Art Directors and Designers Association of New Orleans slideshow presentation.

Thanksgiving: Premiering HERE November 25 at 6pm and remaining on air thereafter, letters and ephemera created in 1962 by a local professional association for graphic designers, ADDA.

If you liked the TV show, Mad Men, you’ll love the real thing, New Orleans-style. Art Directors and Designers Association of New Orleans (ADDA) was chartered in 1961. Illustrators, lettering artists, art directors, photographers, commercial artists, and graphic designers banded together and promoted themselves to advertising executives throughout the Gulf South.

Central to this was a promotional slideshow presentation. Digitized in 2008. You can view an animation of it HERE.

If you are curious about the then new-fangled entertainment gizmo, slideshows, watch the Mad Men scene about their origin, HERE.

Join our reader Colin B. Miller, himself a practicing graphic designer, as he continues the programming theme 2021, Doing Business in New Orleans.

Intro and outro-music in the podcast, and the promotional slideshow presentation, are from the original reel-to-reel audio tape recording of the jingle composed and performed in 1961 for the slideshow by Paul Guma. Guma’s music plays an interesting part in the 16th podcast in this series. Airing New Years Eve!

This, Thanksgiving Eve event at 6:00 pm CDT, is the 15th full-length podcast. Don’t fret if you cannot listen at that hour, it remains available thereafter.

 

 

LETTERS READ: Bananas Anyone?

Scrapbook: Quarantine Tour of Central America and Panama by Health Authorities as guests of the United Fruit Company. The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1996.14.17.

July 15, 2021: This podcast comprises readings from the 1905 scrapbook produced contemporaneously with the last documented yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans and the United States. 
LISTEN HERE!

Featuring readers William Bowling and Grace Kennedy with audio production by Steve Chyzyk and Sonic Canvas Studio.

In photographs and text, this interesting relic presents the idea that bananas imported by the largest importer of them in the world at that time were safe and did not promote the spread of yellow fever.

What was the purpose for this curious piece of ephemera compiled and produced in New Orleans? Documentation of United Fruit’s best practices in sanitation and mosquito abatement? Merely propaganda? For over four years prior, effective protocols for mosquito eradication had already been in place for most American cities. Characteristically, New Orleans lagged behind.

As explained previously in the December 2020 Letters Read Incubator: In 1901, Major Walter Reed, M.D., U.S. Army, and his colleagues confirmed the theory that yellow fever was transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and not by human contact. Further:

Despite the conclusions of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Board … many people in New Orleans still did not take the threat of mosquitoes seriously. Residents got their water from wooden cisterns, a breeding ground for the insects.—American Experience, NPR.

In a stubborn manner usual to New Orleanians, preemptive measures had not yet been adopted by all citizens. As a result, in the city that had been ravaged multiple times by catastrophe and disease, in 1905 cases of the saffron scourge did show up presaging another, and final, yellow fever epidemic.

What part did the United Fruit Company play? Listen to the podcast at 6:00 pm CST and anytime thereafter at this LINK as it airs Thursday, July 15. Listen now to other Letters Read podcasts there, too.

You can follow along and browse through the entire photo album HERE.

LETTERS READ: Edgar Degas

A Cotton Office in New Orleans
A Cotton Office in New Orleans by Edgar Degas, painted in New Orleans, Louisiana, 1873. The painting is in the collection of Musee des Beaux-Arts de Pau, Pau, France.

March 25, 2021: A podcast of personal letters from Edgar Degas surrounding his 4-month stay in Reconstruction-era New Orleans.
LISTEN HERE.

Christopher Kamenstein reads as Degas. Audio production is by Steve Chyzyk and Sonic Canvas studio. The event is emceed by stationer and project director Nancy Sharon Collins.

This podcast is hosted by Pitot House and co-promoted by Alliance Française de La Nouvelle-Orléans. Letters Read fiscal sponsor is Antenna.

Join us for an intimate listen to thoughts and emotions experienced by Edgar Degas as he visits his mother’s family in the Crescent City as it strives to heal post-antebellum wounds after the American Civil War. Business, money, family, property ownership, class, race, and privilege, all play important roles in this compelling story.

In late 1872, Degas accompanied his brother René to New Orleans where he observed his paternal family’s business managing the post-Civil War cotton trade. The painting used to illustrate this online event is the oft cited depiction of his time here. It captures a moment during the decline of his uncle Michel Musson’s business, the Cotton Office. Which went bankrupt shortly thereafter.

Upon his return to France early in 1873, Edgar learned that René had also bankrupted their own father’s banking business.

It was about this time and occasioned by the family’s multiple financial misfortunes that Degas turned his trade as a serious painter into a successful livelihood.

LETTERS READ: A Conversation with Two Actors

The 2020 Season:

Letters Read: 12/21/20

December 31, New Years Eve
Listen to the podcast HERE

In an unprecedented shift from an intended, March production, we offer a remote interview with two professional actors, George Saucier and Colin Miller in Lafayette, Louisiana. Formatted within ten questions, this last 2020 offering threads excerpts from a two-hour conversation between George and Colin about being an actor, theatre as an art form, ruminations about Tennessee Williams, the Southern Gothic genre, and the arc of one’s career.

The audio production is by Steve Steve Chyzyk, and Steve Himelfarb, Sonic Canvas Studio in New Orleans. This project was made possible with the help of Acting Up (In Acadiana) and Amy Waguespack, Artistic Director, and founder of Acting Up.

The conversation took place in George’s Lafayette studio. Nancy Sharon Collins recorded in Sonic Canvas Studio. Sonic Canvas’s sound quality differs from that captured in George’s studio, and, you will hear the difference. While discussing early influences, both actors refer to the Children’s Community School. George later refers to this as CCS. “The script” is mentioned several times. This is the 2018 Letters Read script that was to be restaged with Acting Up in March, 2020, before the pandemic changed everything.

LETTERS READ: The Letters of Robert W. Stuart

November 30
Hosted by: Bastion | Community of Resilience
Gentilly, New Orleans.
William Bowling, Reader.
Steve Chyzyk, Audio Producer.
LISTEN HERE

Robert, “Bob” Stuart was born in 1923, just three years after women in this country were allowed to vote. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana. He served in the Navy during WWII, was honorably discharged in May, 1946, and lived a long and productive life as a civil servant in New Orleans. This during a time in the middle of the 20th century when identifying, or being identified as gay—or queer—could  cause a dishonorable discharge from the military, strip you of civilian jobs, deny you housing, and ruin your reputation forever.

This event reflects upon the arc of Stuart’s life, the times through which he lived, and offers a tiny glimpse into correspondence from men who were his close and intimate friends, and one woman.

Letters and documents for this recording are from the Robert W. Stuart Papers, The Historic New Orleans Collection. Gift of Frank Perez, Acc. No. 2018.0225.

LETTERS READ: Skip Ward

Skip WardAugust 20
The Letters of Skip Ward
A podcast hosted by:
Alexandria Museum of Art
Alexandria, Louisiana.
LISTEN HERE

Blanchard, “Skip” Ward was a gay activist in rural Louisiana during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and into the beginning of the 21st century. His home was in Pineville across the river from Alexandria.

Skip became increasingly involved in LGBTQIA activism in the early 1980s when he first came out. Or, as he would have phrased it, “came up front” about his sexuality. He co-founded the Unitarian/Universalist Church’s Gay Caucus. He also created Louisiana’s first publication tailored to its gay population, called Le Beau Monde. Ward held some form of membership with nearly every Louisiana LGBTQIA organization from the 1970s onward and was particularly active in the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus (LAGPAC), a political activist organization, and the Radical (or Raedical) Faeries, a national organization for rural-based gender and sexual non-conforming spiritualists.

The emcee for this event is Shannon Flaherty, co-artistic director of Goat in the Road Productions (GRP). Frank Perez, president of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana reads as the voice of Northern Louisiana conservative clergy. Two other ensemble GRP members are part of this reading. Owen Ever reads as the voice of Skip Ward and Dylan Hunter is the audio engineer on this production. Original music is composed and performed by Dylan as well.

Ward’s letters provide a rare glimpse into rural gay life and the political struggles of the 1980s and 1990s. —excerpted from the caption to “Letter to A Friend Just Coming Up Front”, in the online exhibit, Women and Gender.

LETTERS READ: Stewart Butler

Stewart Butler Letters
April 26
The Letters of Stewart Butler
LISTEN HERE

The 14th Letters Read and first produced remotely and podcast.

Originally scheduled for March 26 at Frenchman Art & Books in New Orleans, this event was preempted by the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. Instead, listen to Dylan Hunter reading as the voice of our subject. Rebecca Hollingsworth is Anne. Both self-recorded in the safety of their own home. Our emcee is Frank Perez, President of LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana. Frank was recorded through a telephone conversation with Dylan. Dylan is also our audio engineer for this event. Music is written and performed by Rob Hudak.

This event provides a rare glimpse into the personal life of an important Louisiana political activist. It begins with the 1967 correspondence from Anne, an intimate friend. The reading weaves in annual Valentine’s letters beginning in 1999 that, as recently as this year, were still mailed to 200 of his dearest friends.

Since the 1970s, Butler has been a significant force in the Louisiana civil rights movement. In 1984, 1986, and 1991 he strategically advocated for changing gay-rights ordinances. Butler was a co-founder of LGPAC (the Louisiana chapter of Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus) and has served on boards including the Lesbian and Gay Community Center, PFLAG, and LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana.

Thanks go Antenna, our fiscal agent. To David Zalkind, owner, Frenchman Art & Book, and to Dancing Grounds from whom we were borrowing chairs. The live audio engineer was to be Steve Chyzyk, Sonic Canvas Studio. Thanks also go to Bill Hagler, John Magill, Robert Feiseler, and Courtney Sharp for providing background and context. Thank you Letters Read narrative and storytelling advisors Ted Cotton and Cassie Pruyn.

LETTERS READ: 2019 Season Wrap-up

We are delighted to announce that Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities has awarded LETTERS READ a Rebirth Grant for the 2020 programming season. *

Additionally, LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, Corners Foundation, and The Reba Judith Sandler Foundation have each awarded grants for next year.

LETTERS READ Anniversary & Fundraising Bash was held Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 at Orange Couch in New Orleans. It was a rousing success and we thank everyone who joined us and celebrated! There was a special reading by Christopher Kamenstein and the project director, stationer, Nancy Sharon Collins. Visual accompaniment was by Jeffrey Killion.

If you were unable to attend and would like to make a donation, go to antenna.works/donate/ and make sure to check the box that says, “Write us a comment” and include: “For LETTERS READ 2020 Season”.

Questions? Contact us!

LETTERS READ: Baroness de Pontalba

Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at the Cabildo, Louisiana State Museum.

The Louisiana Museum FoundationLouisiana State Museum, Letters Read, and Antenna, brought an intimate, performative evening celebrating a love for history, architecture, and a unique understanding of our relationship with property. Listen to a recording here.

For one night only, professional actors read and interpreted contemporary and historic communications surrounding the exhibit The Baroness de Pontalba & the Rise of Jackson Square at the Louisiana State Museum’s Cabildo.

This narrative weaves the legacy of Don Andrés Almonester (1728–1798), his formidable daughter, Micaela, the Baroness de Pontalba (1795–1874), and specific members of her descendent family into an exploration of our notions of property and property ownership.

Special guests included readers Christopher KamensteinGrace Kennedy, and Nicole Horne.

“Spanish Cabildo” by artist Jim Blanchard, 1992. From the exhibition The Baroness de Pontalba & The Rise of Jackson Square at the Cabildo, French Quarter, New Orleans. The drawing was lent by Paul St. Martin and photographed by Advocate staff photographer Chris Granger.